Over the past century, intense settlement and agricultural development have resulted in a loss of more than half the sagebrush ecosystems in the western United States and Canada. Today, these ecosystems continue to be threatened by a variety of changing or intensifying land uses such as urbanization, grazing and agriculture, and especially, energy development. The expanding pressures of habitat loss, as well as habitat fragmentation and other disturbances resulting from these land-use changes, are leading to considerable declines in the numbers and distributions of wildlife species that depend upon sagebrush habitat.
Wyoming alone encompasses approximately one fourth (32 million acres) of the sagebrush communities remaining in North America. Wyoming is also endowed with significant natural gas and wind resources, which are being developed in earnest as our Nation seeks to capitalize on domestic energy sources. Understanding the effects of rapid energy development in Wyoming's wildlife-rich landscape is crucial to discovering how best to limit impacts on sensitive species and habitats. To that end, resource and land managers urgently need scientifically based information that will help them to identify and protect sensitive areas where native species, especially those that depend on sagebrush, can continue to thrive.
The potential effects of rapid land-use change on Wyoming’s wildlife and habitats prompted the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to conceive the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI) for Southwest Wyoming. In addition to the BLM and WGFD, WLCI partners include the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. This long-term, science-based endeavor entails a regional or "landscape" approach to assessing and conserving wildlife and their habitats in southwestern Wyoming, while also facilitating responsible energy development.
Wind is a relative newcomer to the energy-development scene. Throughout the western United States, wind-energy development is occurring at a rapid pace, much of it on lands administered by the BLM. With its multiple-use mandate, the BLM must manage these lands for wildlife conservation as well as energy development and other uses. To assist the BLM, FORT GIS specialists recently developed the Wyoming wind turbine data set as part of the WLCI effort. Partners now can use the wind turbine data to evaluate the effects of wind-energy development on Wyoming’s biological resources and incorporate the data into WLCI planning tools and conservation projects. Wind turbine datasets also have been developed for Colorado and New Mexico.
In collaboration with partner agencies, an interdisciplinary team of investigators from the USGS Fort Collins Science Center and 11 other USGS centers has brought biological and ecosystem research and mapping expertise to the partnership to answer key research questions pertaining to energy- and wildlife-rich areas: What is the current status and distribution of habitats and species of conservation concern? What will happen at ecoregional and local scales to species of concern as development occurs? What monitoring infrastructure is needed to evaluate ecosystem changes over time and help implement adaptive management to prevent or mitigate harmful impacts? These and many other questions are being addressed in a variety of research projects currently underway, with more being developed.
To learn more about specific aspects of this critical work, click on the associated project titles:
- Disturbance and Reclamation Data Management Systems (DARDMS)
- DOI on the Landscape, Sagebrush Ecosystems: Landscape-Scale Modeling to Address Management Priorities for Sagebrush Habitats and Sagebrush-Obligate Wildlife Species
- Ecological Impacts of Roads and Road Use on Wildlife
- Evaluating Species Models for the Ecoregional Analysis of Sagebrush Ecosystems within the Wyoming Basins
- Habitat Prioritization for Selected Raptor Species in Wyoming
- Landscape Genetics of Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming
- Mapping Surface Disturbance of Energy-Related Infrastructure in Southwest Wyoming: An Assessment of Methods
- Natural Resource Preservation Program: Gunnison Sage-Grouse Chick Survival and Landscape Population Modeling
- Natural Resources Preservation Program: Gunnison Sage-Grouse Habitat Selection: Developing a Landscape-Level Habitat Map Predicting Sagebrush, Herbaceous, and Bare Ground Cover
- Pinedale Anticline Data Management System
- Quantifying Sagebrush-Steppe Habitat Structure Using Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) data: An Evaluation in Southwestern Wyoming
- Sagebrush Ecosystems Coordinated Research: Determining the Effects of Energy Development on Sagebrush Ecosystems—Invasive Plants
- Sagebrush Ecosystems: Landscape-Scale Modeling to Address Management Priorities for Sagebrush Habitats and Sagebrush-Obligate Wildlife Species
- Stratton Sagebrush Ecological Research Site: An Experimental Approach to Assess Various Grazing Treatments on Vegetation and Wildlife Communities across Managed Burns and Habitat Controls
- Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative: Baseline Synthesis
- Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative: Decision-Making and Evaluation
- Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative: Effectiveness Monitoring
- Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative: Inventory and Long-Term Monitoring
- Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative: Mechanistic Studies of Wildlife